Special Town Meeting - Oct 19th, 2023
Second night of the fall special town meeting. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2023-oct-special-town-meeting-warrant.
(?, Point of Order) Someone asks what constitutes a quorum for town meeting.
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says that quorum is 65 town meeting members for articles that require a majority vote, and 85 for articles that require a two-thirds vote.
(Kirsi Allison-Ampe, Precinct 13) Ms. Allison-Ampe says that Invest in Arlington is looking for volunteers over the next few weeks. Please contact her if you have time to help.
Article 1 - Reports
There are no new reports this evening.
Article 10 - Street Trees
(Steve Revilak, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Revilak introduces Article 10, a proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment related to public shade trees.
Section 6.3 of Arlington's Zoning Bylaw requires that new development or significant additions in business districts provide a public shade tree every 25' feet along public ways. Article 10 proposes to extend this requirement to all Business and Residential districts, whether a special permit is required or not. The Arlington Redevelopment board hopes this will contribute to enhancing the town's tree canopy over time, as parcels turn over and are redeveloped.
Projects involving new construction, or additions that increase the building footprint by 50% or more would be subject to the requirements proposed by article 10: ensuring that there is a public shade tree every 25' feet along the parts of the parcel that abut a public way. Per existing bylaw requirements, these shade trees shall be planted in tree wells and planting strips; they shall be of species approved by the tree warden; and, they must be at least 10' tall with a 2" caliper. If planting shade trees is infeasible, property owners shall be required to make a financial contribution to the Arlington Tree fund.
As noted earlier, changes under article 10 would apply to all new construction in residential districts. This includes the construction of new single- and two-family homes, as well as any housing that may be developed in the multi-family districts required for compliance with the MBTA communities act.
This amendment extends the zoning bylaw's standards for public shade trees, so that they apply to new construction and substantial expansions in residential districts. The ARB Voted (4-0) at their October 2nd meeting to Recommend Favorable Action on Article 10.
(Elaine Crowder, Precinct 19) Ms. Crowder asks how this will interact with buildings that have 0' setbacks.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that public shade trees are planted in the public right of way, and not on private property. There are numerous shade trees in the business districts, in front of buildings with 0' setbacks. Mr. Revilak says that builders will be required to make a financial contribution to the town's tree fund, if it's not feasible to plant shade trees along the adjoining public ways.
(Susan Stamps, Precinct 3) Ms. Stamps says she's a member of the tree committee, and advocated for tree planting when we were working on the multi-family zoning for MBTA Communities. She thinks the best place to plant trees is off the sidewalk, on public property.
(Bob Radochia, Precinct 11) Mr. Radochia says he likes trees, but doesn't believe they should be planted along the street, because they block visibility for drivers. He says that trees are planted on private property in Winchester, and that makes for better visibility.
(Daniel Jalkut, Precinct 6) Mr. Jalkut moves to terminate debate.
Debate is ended by a voice vote.
(Aram Hollman, Point of order) Mr. Hollman says the proposed language refers to a multi-family district, which we currently do not have. He asks whether this article is something town meeting can vote on.
(Michael Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham says that language will be a nullity if Article 12 doesn't pass.
Article passes, 187--10.
Article 11 - Residential Uses in Business Districts
(Steve Revilak, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Revilak introduces article 11, a proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment related to Residential uses in Business districts. Article 11 is one of several articles intended to encourage the redevelopment of underutilized properties in the Business Districts, and to create more needed and desired quality commercial space in the few areas of town zoned for Business.
The business districts make up only a small percentage of Arlington's total land area. Single- and two-family homes are allowed by right in all business districts. Article 11 proposes to change the zoning bylaw, so that single-, two-family, and duplex dwellings are no longer allowed uses in the Business districts, similar to the way they are no longer allowed in Industrial districts.
There are a number of single- and two-family dwellings in the business districts today. These properties would become non-conforming, but the owners would be able to continue the single-, two-family, or duplex use for as long as they'd like. This is the same situation as we have for single- and two-family dwellings in the industrial district. These existing property owners are not required to do anything.
Mr. Revilak says it's rare for businesses to be replaced by single- and two-family dwellings, but this has happened in the past. The Arlington Redevelopment Board is proposing Article 11 to emphasize that commercial uses and mixed-use are the priorities for the business districts.
This amendment removes single-, two-family, and duplexes from the list of allowed uses in Arlington's business districts. The ARB Voted (4-0) at their October 2nd meeting to Recommend Favorable Action on Article 11.
(Wynelle Evans, Precinct 14) Ms. Evans introduces an amendment on behalf of Chris Loreti, who wasn't able to attend this evening's meeting. This amendment will retain single-family homes as a by-right use in the B1 district. B1 has historically been intended to allow a mix of residential and business use. She thinks that making single-family homes in this district non-conforming will create a burden for the respective homeowners.
(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein says he'll vote for the amendment. He says there's a dentist's office around the corner, and the dentist lives on the second floor. This sort of thing used to be common, and it preserves small-town character. Mr. Kaepplein believes we're seeing a push towards urbanization. He says that many funeral homes are in former houses, and it would be hard to have apartments above a funeral parlor. He thinks it would be challenging to rent those apartments.
(Gordon Jamieson, Precinct 12) Mr. Jamieson asks if three-family homes are allowed in the business districts.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that three-family homes are allowed in all business districts, by special permit.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks how large the B1 districts are, and where they're located.
The moderator asks to have a copy of the zoning map displayed. Mr. Revilak points out the various B1 districts located along Mass Ave.
(Jordan Weinstein, Precinct 21) Mr. Weinstein is in favor of the amendment. He thinks that Article 11 is a great thing, but it treats the B1 district differently, and there are homes there. He says the amendment will allow single- and two-family homes by right. If the amendment doesn't pass, those homes could be put on the market and replaced with three-family homes. If a single-family home changes to some other use, the owners won't be able to go back.
(Eugene Benson, Precinct 10) Mr. Benson wants to speak in opposition to the Loreti amendment. He says that the purpose of Article 11 is to prioritize business uses, and discourage the conversion of business to residential. Mr. Loreti's amendment is proposing the opposite, and it would allow conversions of commercial to residential. Mr. Benson says that the zoning bylaw allows one to convert one non-conforming use to another, as long as it's not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood. So, one could convert a single-family to a two-family, and then back to a single-family. Non-conforming uses can continue indefinitely. Mr. Benson says there's a difference between a non-conforming use and a non-conforming structure, and non-conforming structures can be expanded over time.
(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner asks town meeting to consider whether the main motion makes sense. He says that Mr. Loreti was a former ARB member, and that no one was able to comment on the changes proposed to the B1 district. Mr. Wagner says he grew up in a B1 district. He asks town meeting to remember that Arlington is a town with different business zones, and some of those zones have houses. He asks if we want to completely urbanize.
(Christopher Moore, Precinct 14) Mr. Moore motions to terminate debate.
Motion to end debate passes by a voice vote.
Loreti amendment fails, 55--137.
Article 11 passes, 161--39.
Article 12 - MBTA Communities Overlay District
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Moderator says he had intended, with the meeting's permission, to take up Article 12 no earlier than October 23rd. He says there are still amendments coming in.
Town meeting agrees to lay article 12 on the table, and take it up Monday night.
Article 13 - MBTA Communities Act Neighborhood Districts
(Steve Revilak, Arlington Redevelopment Board) Mr. Revilak says the redevelopment board voted to recommend "no action" on Article 13, by a vote of 3--0.
No action recommendation passes by a voice vote.
(Note: the resident who filed Article 13 will be pursuing changes to the MBTA neighborhood districts via amendments to article 12).
Article 14 - Fossil Fuel Free Infrastructure Demonstration
(Eric Helmuth, Select Board Chair) Mr. Helmuth tells town meeting that the Select Board recommended favorable action on Article 14 by a vote of 4--0--1. He says the leadership of this body couldn't be on better display, when it comes to walking the walk on climate change. He thinks the community wants to be a leader.
(Ryan Katofsky, Clean Energy Future Committee) Mr. Katofsky says that electrification of buildings is a part of the net zero action plan. As we incorporate more renewable energy sources into the grid, electrification means that building green house emissions will go down. Town meeting passed something similar to Article 14 in 2020, as a home rule petition. The legislature did not pass our home rule petition. Instead, they developed a pilot program where ten cities and towns would be able to enact local regulation on the use of fossil fuels in new construction.
(Talia Fox, Planning Department) Ms. Fox says that the state is allowing ten municipalities to participate in the fossil fuel-free demonstration program, but there are requirements. One of the requirements is that municipalities must re-adopt bylaws regulating fossil fuels. DOER created a model code, which municipalities are encouraged to adopt. Article 14 aligns with DOER's model code, and makes considerations for how the technologies have changed over the last three years. The updated bylaw aligns various thresholds with DOER rules, and it removes the exemption for indoor cooking. There's a higher square foot threshold for the domestic hot water exemption, and an update to the bylaw's effective date. Ms. Fox says this doesn't apply to additions or changes in use. If this bylaw were in effect in 2022, it would have applied to a total of 70 buildings. Electrifying buildings now will avoid the need for costly retrofits later on.
(Sanjay Newton, Point of order) Mr. Newton says the timer display is flickering back and fourth between numbers.
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says he's not seeing that on his clock, and he believes he'll be able to track speaking times.
(Amos Meeks, Precinct 3) Mr. Meeks strongly supports Article 14, which is a continuation of the clean heat bylaw from 2020. The 2020 version had an exemption for gas cooking appliances, but that's been left out of the current version. Three years later, we know more about the effects of gas cooking and child asthma.
(Ed Trembly, Precinct 19) Mr. Trembly says he doesn't know where to begin with this article. He asks how many new electric substations we're going to need, in order to electrify everything.
(Ryan Katofsky) Mr. Katofsky says he can't give a specific number. It depends on how the grid operators manage the grid.
(Ed Trembly) Mr. Trembly says he's heard that Cambridge will need five new substations. The first one of those will be in Kendall Square and will cost $1.4 billion. He emphasizes that Cambridge will need five of these, and he thinks that Arlington will need at least one. Mr. Trembly says there are lots of things that make housing expensive, and energy costs are a part of that. He notes that the article 14 would prohibit gas cooking appliances. Mr. Trembly says people can spend thousands of dollars on induction stoves, and then thousands of dollars on cookware that works with them. He says this doesn't make housing more affordable. Mr. Trembly asks "what if it gets cold?". He doesn't think that air source heat pumps can keep up during the coldest parts of the winter, and the more efficient ones cost twenty or thirty thousand dollars. He asks what that will do to the grid. He says that so many parts of this article strike him as a bad idea, and passing legislation for something that doesn't exist seems like a bad idea.
(John Leone, Precinct 8) Mr. Leone says he has an oil burner. He asks if he'll be able to replace this with a gas furnace, if Article 14 passes.
(Talia Fox) Ms. Fox says that article 14 would only apply to new construction and substantial renovations. If Mr. Leone were only replacing his furnace, and he would be able to replace his furnace, provided it wasn't part of a substantial renovation.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says he'd need a gas hookup for a new furnace. He asks if he'd be able to do that.
(Talia Fox) Ms. Fox answers in the affirmative.
(Arthur Prokosch, Precinct 4) Mr. Prokosch moves the question.
Motion to end debate passes by a voice vote.
Article 14 passes, 178--23.
Article 15 - Collective Bargaining
(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee Chair) Ms. Deshler says the finance committee voted to recommend favorable action on Article 15.
(Alex McGee, Finance Department) Mr. McGee says that article 15 is the ratification of collective bargaining agreements for FY22--24. It proposes to transfer $477k from the salary reserve fund into retroactive pay, plus budget adjustments. It moves pay for the APPOA (police patrolman's union) to a similar place as our comparable communities. Mr. McGee says this is a 14% increase over three years.
(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton notes that this includes a 2% wage increase for the adoption of body-worn cameras. He asks if there's a policy for these cameras.
(Julie Flaherty, Police Chief) Ms. Flaherty says she can't disclose the policies, due to ongoing negotiations. She says they will follow a number of best practices set out by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks if Ms. Flaherty can talk about the kinds of things the policy would cover, without getting into the specifics.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says it would include things like when the cameras are turned on and off, and how they would be worn.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks if the policy would cover things like when footage could be reviewed.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says it would cover that.
(Michael Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham says that negotiations with the union are ongoing, and discussion of the body camera policy might have an adverse effect on those negotiations.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks about the rationale for the wage increase.
(Michael Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says the wage increase would come from a change in working conditions.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks how the policy will be created.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says the town is negotiating with the union over the policy.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says that developing policies through union negotiations is not the best way to build public support.
(Xavid Pretzer, Precinct 17) Mx. Precinct believes there's a need for additional conversation about the policy, and that Arlington can do better to inspire confidence from the public.
(Annie Lacourt, Precinct 13) Ms. Lacourt says this is goal-based bargaining, and the town has an interest in the outcome. Article 15 will put our patrolman's salaries in a place where they're competitive with other communities. It's not uncommon to bargain for salary increases when there's a change to working conditions. She says this will increase the cost of police service, but it's a well-earned increase. She asks if these costs relate to the population -- the number of people living in Arlington.
(Alex McGee) Mr. McGee answers in the negative.
(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar motions to terminate debate.
Debate ends by a voice vote.
Article passes 175--18.
Meeting adjourned, because Article 12 is all we have left, and we'll be taking that up on Monday.